Most people tend to think that eating less is the key to a stronger and healthier body. That’s not necessarily true though. I have found that when working with my health coaching clients, most are undereating for their needs/goals. What most don’t realize, that when you have fitness and health goals, eating too little can actually hurt more than it can help.
In fact, here’s what can happen when you try to significantly restrict calories when being active:
IT’S HARD TO BUILD MUSCLE AND GET STRONGER
Our muscles need fuel to grow and get stronger. Without sufficient food, you will struggle to see any change in muscle size and shape, no matter how hard you train. Your body needs fuel to just survive. It uses food first where it needs it the most, like maintaining normal blood pressure, body temperature, digestive health, and other basic body functions. If all your fuel is gone after taking care of the basics, there’s just no building material left for them.
YOU’RE HAVING A HARD TIME LOSING FAT
Undereating makes fat loss very difficult in the long run. Sure, to lose fat, your body needs to be in a calorie deficit but you shouldn’t try to cut your calories too fast, especially if you are working out on a daily basis.
Extreme calorie restriction leads to a slower metabolism and fast muscle loss, both of which you want to avoid when you are trying to get stronger and healthier. The bigger and stronger our muscles are, the faster our metabolism is, and the better fat burners we are.
YOU’RE UNABLE TO MAKE PROGRESS
Not eating enough also won’t allow you to reach your full potential in your workouts. Maybe you’re doing similar workouts every week, but your results aren’t getting better. No matter how hard you try, you aren’t able to increase your weights, run a faster mile or make strides toward any specific goal.
If this sounds like you, I would encourage you to take a serious look at how much you are eating or not eating. Try counting calories (I highly recommend using the MyfitnessPal app) for a few days to see how much you’re eating. Eating more will help you to fill your muscles with more energy that can then be used to hit those goals you have been striving for.
YOU’RE RECOVERY IS SLOW
The better fueled we are, the faster our muscles heal and the more likely we’ll be ready to tackle our next workout. If you skip your meals or don’t eat enough at your meals, muscle soreness may also last longer.
If we skip meals, our bodies start to use protein from our muscle tissues for fuel, because they have no other energy source. If we’re already over trained, there are things that help us back on track—enough food being one of them.
YOUR HORMONES ARE UNBALANCED
Hormones play a critical role in our overall health and wellness and specifically our strength training goals. To be healthy, our hormone production has to be on point. When we don’t eat enough, we will sooner or later ruin that normal balance.
Cortisol is a hormone that is known as the “stress hormone.” We do need cortisol and its levels naturally fluctuate throughout the day–that’s completely normal.
What we don’t want, however, is for cortisol to be chronically elevated, which is exactly what happens when we’re constantly underfed. Of course, other factors like poor sleep, stress, or even negative relationships affect our cortisol levels as well.
YOUR BODIES WAY OF TELLING YOU THAT YOU SHOULD EAT MORE
You’re often exhausted even when you’re halfway through the workout
You don’t recover from your workouts as fast as you used to
It’s hard to lose fat, or build muscle, despite training a lot
Mood fluctuations- Do you find yourself “hangry” a lot? Do you get super moody when you haven’t eaten for a while?
Trouble concentrating? You may experience brain fog or have a hard time sleeping, or you may want to sleep all the time if your body isn’t properly fueled.
HOW DO I KNOW HOW MUCH I SHOULD BE EATING?
BMR or Basal Metabolic Rate is an estimate of calories we should be eating every day to regulate or body temperature and keep our digestion, respiratory system and other most important functions of our body working properly. Whenever we exercise, even if it’s as light as just walking, our energy expenditure increases. So BMR tells us the amount of energy we burn when we basically lie down all day.
BMR is based on our height, weight and activity levels. You can calculate yours >> here .Calculate Your Basal Metabolic Rate (bodybuilding.com). However, remember that although this number gives you an idea what you spend every day, it’s not 100% accurate.
You should never eat less than your BMR is, since doing so will sooner or later start to affect your health. It may seem like a good idea to eat less than this number if you’re trying to lose weight, but doing this will backfire. And if you’re fairly active and work out regularly, you should be eating quite a bit more than this (and if you’re trying to build muscle, you’ll need to eat even more).
One that is absolutely sure is that by eating too little, you’ll never hit those new PRs, accomplish cool new skills, or gain muscle or much strength. On top of that, you’ll probably lose your workout motivation, because it’s tough to stay motivated when workouts are crappy!
EAT TO PERFORM
Make sure to eat enough! Take care of your pre and post workout meals and eat all three macronutrients (protein, carbs, and fat).
Keep in mind that even if skipping meals or significantly cutting calories may seem like a good idea for quick weight loss, this approach is not sustainable and may ruin your health in a long run. Fat loss will become more and more difficult, and crushing your workout goals will simply not happen.
Remember, food is fuel! Take care of your body and treat it that way.